First, they survive rape. Then come police, proof and politics of Rajasthan

In her new clothes and sandals, the 16-year-old girl was mostly restricted to a room at a farmhouse in Chomu, Rajasthan, as old men from a nearby village visited and allegedly took turns to rape her. She had been sent to work as a cook by her father, Ramesh with his trusted friend Jagdish and his wife, Shanti Devi, who were gardeners at the farmhouse.

The abuse started early and the list of her men included a former sarpanch, tailor, property dealer, a vegetable seller, and a sweet shop owner, among others.

By then, in March 2019, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had already announced mandatory registration of FIRs for cognizable offences. A few months later, he even gave authority to the office of the Superintendent of the Police to file FIRs if the local police station is not recording it. These were important measures and were praised, but they remained mere first steps in assuring women of justice in sexual assault cases.

The mandatory FIRs drove up the number of cases, bringing Gehlot’s Rajasthan under much criticism from the opposition BJP for being the rape centre. But in the absence of effective police investigations and convictions, his measures satisfied none – neither the women leaders and rape survivors, nor the opposition.

When Ramesh, a Scheduled Caste brick kiln worker, learned what happened to his daughter a whole year later, he approached the local police. But he was accused and later arrested for extortion.

The young girl’s case is one of 5,310 rapes Rajasthan recorded in 2020, the highest in the country. Since 2018, when the Congress formed the government in the state, Rajasthan has seen a rise in the number of rape cases from 4,335 in 2018 to 6,337 in 2021.

first, they survive rape. then come police, proof and politics of rajasthan
A counselling centre for women in Gandhinagar, Jaipur, attached to a women police station. | Photograph by Sonal Matharu | ThePrint

“There is no need to worry if more FIRs lead to rise in crime figures,” Gehlot had said in a police department meeting in June 2019, The Indian Express reported.

On several occasions, he has said that close to 50 per cent rape cases registered are fake.

Gehlot, who also holds the charge of the home department, justifies the high numbers as a consequence of easy registration of FIRs ensured by him. By introducing ‘backroom registration’ of FIRs in the SP office, the Rajasthan chief minister pulled out an existing law and empowered the police to use it. But the initiative, however well-intentioned, gets diluted at the investigation stage. Cases are often mired in corruption, caste and class wars.

“Rajasthan police may be registering more cases now, but its attitude towards rape, caste, and patriarchy has not changed,” says Kavita Srivastava, national secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, a human rights body.

Three years after she was raped, and two years after her father went to the police station, the girl is now a woman. She was called a liar, was forced to flee from her village, and be at the beck and call of the police. Last year, the police closed her case, deeming it false.

But in the folder with her case papers, the young woman still has the photos of her abusers, which her family had collected to give to the police. “Nothing has happened in the case. I want justice,” she says meekly.

Police, proof and patriarchy

At the new house where she now lives with her family, the young woman sits quietly at a parapet while her siblings play with each other.

“The men threatened to kill me if I told anyone. Shanti and Jagdish would not let me meet my family alone and would ask me every month if I had had my periods,” she says softly, her head tilted in shame.

When she conceived, Jagdish and Shanti allegedly arranged medicines for abortion through a local quack. She could only tell her aunt what was happening with her a year later.  Within days of her father reaching the police station to file the rape FIR, one of the accused, Kaliash Chand Maini, former sarpanch of Nimdi village to which Jagdish belongs, filed an FIR, accusing Ramesh of extortion.

The police set up a plot with Maini and a few others, called Ramesh to a spot and arrested him for extortion, claims the father. The police claim otherwise.

“Ramesh was using his daughter to scam innocent villagers. We caught him red-handed when he came to collect money from them,” says Sitaram Prajapat, Additional SP, Jaipur Rural, who was investigating the case.

He spent more than a month in jail before he was released on bail. The money he was demanding from Jagdish – and not Maini – was his own money. “I had given it to Jagdish for a plot of land. I had gone to take that money back after I found out about the rape,” says Ramesh.

But the police say his daughter’s allegations could not be proven. “She named 12-13 people without specifying the date or time of the crime. The crime could not be established. Parents don’t leave their underage daughter with anyone,” says Prajapat.

For days, after Ramesh first went to the police station, SUVs would circle his house. He would receive warnings to drop the case. Despite his pleas, he says, the police did not file an FIR or arrest the accused.

After his release from prison, he fled the village with his family, and is now living in hiding. A retired police constable in the new neighbourhood has now helped him file an FIR in the rape case. The accused are still free.

first, they survive rape. then come police, proof and politics of rajasthan
The Chomu surviour, somewhere in Rajasthan. | Photograph by Sonal Matharu | ThePrint

“Wherever crimes with a caste angle come to surface, the weaker sections get crushed,” explains Suman Devathiya, founder, Aagaaz Foundation, a non-profit organisation working on Dalit rights. Even with administrative changes, it is not easy to break the feudal mindset of society.

So when a Dalit woman goes to a thana to accuse upper caste men, she is not taken seriously.  “The people in the police, judiciary, and bureaucracy come from the same divisive society and they tell the woman that she is filing a fake case because she gets compensation under the SC/ST Act,” she adds.

But the situation is no different for women from upper castes, several other organisations working with rape victims told ThePrint.

Here, patriarchy has as much of a grip on society as caste.

The politics on rape

Ashok Ghelot’s logic that cases have risen because of his initiatives has neither pacified his political opponents nor women’s organisations in the state. The opposition claims the law-and-order situation in the state is deteriorating. For them, the high crime numbers are dope for the assembly elections next year. Meanwhile, NGOs working with survivors of rape say that little is being done to prevent crimes against women.

For the Aam Aadmi Party, which is solidifying its base in the state, rising crimes against women is an important plank on which they will base their agenda.

“Crimes against women and against Dalits are increasing in Rajasthan. FIRs are eyewash. Where is the inquiry going after that?” says Vinay Mishra, AAP MLA and in-charge of Rajasthan.

Gehlot smoothened the process of rape complaints and FIRs in  2019, after a political furore erupted when the police allegedly did not report the gangrape of a young Dalit woman by five Gurjar men in Alwar citing ongoing Lok Sabha elections.

The police inaction invited aggressive attacks by the BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, mentioned it in his rallies.

Crime high under BJP rule too

In August, the Rajasthan state unit of BJP organised a protest in Jaipur on the deteriorating law and order situation. Photos of BJP leaders being detained by the police were tweeted by the party’s official twitter handle.

The reason for the poor law-and-order, they say, is a politicised police force and Congress government’s insensitivity towards women’s issues.

“From constable to SP, all posts in the police force in the state are allotted on the basis of caste, ideology and who aligns with the ruling party. Because of this, the efficiency of the police has gone down,” says Satish Poonia, state president, BJP Rajasthan.

first, they survive rape. then come police, proof and politics of rajasthan
August 10 rally organised by the BJP on rising crime in Rajasthan. | Photo: Rajasthan BJP office

Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee’s secretary Jaswant Gurjar alleges that reporting of rape cases were suppressed at the police station level itself by the earlier BJP government.

“Under BJP rule, around 10 rapes used to happen daily in the state out of which 30 per cent FIRs were filed by the court. These FIRs from court have reduced drastically under Congress. It’s negligible now. This way, if the government wants, the FIRs can be halved. But that is not our intention. A single woman can go to the police station and file an FIR now. The police will have to file it,” says Gurjar.

Govts change, not fate of women

But for women, say activists, access to justice before 2018, when BJP was in power in the state, was no better.

“Women in a feudal and patriarchal society like Rajasthan are seen as slaves and private property,” says Jaipur-based sociologist Rajiv Gupta.

Among the north Indian states, Rajasthan also tops in domestic violence. Over 23 per cent ever-married women aged between 18 and 49 experienced physical violence by their husbands in Rajasthan as per the National Family Health Survey data for 2019-21.

Establishing women’s police stations and women’s desks at regular police stations, which Rajasthan has for decades, without sensitising the police persons will not make access easier for women.

‘Fake’ rapes

While the political theatrics on the crime numbers in the state may only increase as the elections inch closer, Rajasthan has always been among the top five states for rapes. This, irrespective of which political party is in power or whether FIRs can be registered online.

At 16.4, the rate of rape is the highest in Rajasthan (followed by Chandigarh at 13.3 and Delhi at 12.9), but the crime numbers do not reflect the true state of affairs, say Congress leaders to ThePrint. Rate of crime against women means number of crimes against women per one lakh population of women.

In 2021, when Rajasthan recorded 6,337 rapes, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh had 2,845, 2,496 and 2,947 cases, respectively. “High numbers are not a matter of concern for us. Yes, Rajasthan is on top in registering cases, but 42 per cent (rape) cases in Congress rule were found to be fake after investigation. If you then compare Rajasthan with other states like UP, and MP, then we are in a better position,” says Gurjar.

In the police records, cases which cannot be established are classified as ‘false’ and closed after giving a final report.

In 2021, about 30.7 per cent cases of crimes against women in Rajasthan were declared false (total crimes against women – 40,738; False cases – 12,516), compared to 11.4 per cent in MP and two per cent in UP.

The false reports in crimes against children, for instance, are 17 per cent in Rajasthan, 24 per cent in MP and less than two per cent in UP for 2021.

The sentiment that women file fake rape complaints is echoed in other quarters of the government as well – including Rajasthan State Commission for Women, state body to safeguard the interest of women.

“I’m appalled at the downfall of the society by the kind of cases which are coming to me,” says Rehana Rayaz Chisti, Chairperson, Rajasthan State Commission for Women and State President, Mahila Congress.

She explains that there are variations in women’s statements in the police station, at the time of registering an FIR, and before the Magistrate.

“In some cases, women accuse all the husband’s male relatives of gang rape. Can you believe that father-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle and his son all rape her?” says Riyaz.

Gehlot himself, on several occasions, has called the high rape numbers fake.

“Who perpetrates instances of rape? Does a foreigner do it? In majority of the cases, the woman’s relatives are perpetrators, known people, people known to the family, relatives. (In) 56 per cent of the crimes against women, false figures come, false cases,” he told reporters on 2 September in Jaipur.

But cases called fake by the police do not mean that women are lying, say organisations working with rape victims. These numbers, according to them, indicate that either the police could not establish the truth through proper investigation, or the cases may have ended in a compromise.

“The high closure reports in rape cases establish the same cultural pattern as women are looked at in society that they are liars. It shows that state is trying to deny the existence of rape,” says Srivastava.

If the police is not investigating diligently and is not facilitating and supporting witnesses, the case will automatically fall apart, she adds.

For a woman to approach a police station with a serious accusation such as rape, is also not easy, says Devathiya.

“Till the time the situation reaches an extreme point, a woman does not report a crime. She has to secure the livelihood of her family, children and prepare herself for a long, slow process to get justice. She has limited or no access to good lawyers. By the time the judgment comes, she is exhausted or her life has changed completely,” explains Devathiya.

In this long period to reach justice, therefore, many women become hostile or give in to the immense pressure from the family and society, and compromise.

“Violence is perpetrated on all the women who walk into the police station. Money exchanges hands and she writes that she filed the complaint by mistake. So, this is the story behind the high cases which the government is claiming to be false,” says Renuka Pamecha, president, Vividha, a non-profit organisation.

The cases of women turning hostile or compromising, are not recorded separately in the police data.

ThePrint reached out to Director General of Police, Rajasthan, ML Lather, for comments several times but received no response.

Finding justice amid social threat

In 2017, one September evening, a 30-year-old woman returned home early from the fields to her house in Boot Rathoran village in Barmer. She was exhausted by the constant threats and beatings her joint family was receiving after she was gangraped by two Thakur men – Lakh Singh and Tan Singh – from her village two months ago.

With her father-in-law, Ram, a retired Border Security Force soldier, by her side, she had taken the bold step of refusing to compromise and reporting the matter to the police.

But that evening, she wanted to put an end to the fear they were all living in. An hour after she returned from the fields, her two-year-old son saw her body floating in the 40-feet deep water storage tank in the veranda.

“For two months after the rape, the accused were running free. They threatened us and offered us money, but the police did not arrest them,” says Ram.

The accused were arrested after Ram and his family sat on a protest outside the hospital, refusing to cremate her body, the family claims.

The duo are out on bail and the investigation in the case is still ongoing. So are the threats to Ram’s family.

Five years later, with a bag full of documents, Ram is still running from pillar to post to get justice for his daughter-in-law.

first, they survive rape. then come police, proof and politics of rajasthan
Raymal Ram, father-in-law of the Barmer rape victim. | Photograph by Sonal Matharu | ThePrint

At the Chottan police station, where the case is registered, the police remain apathetic to the crime.

“The women in the villages are adulterous. They have friendships with other men, but when her family finds out, then they call it rape,” said woman constable Sohini.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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